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Frank Gray

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All I want for Christmas is some answers

Over the next couple of days, you’ll probably be able to catch at least two or three different movie versions of “A Christmas Carol,” depending on how many channels you have.

One thing I’ve noticed about the various movie takes on the story is that Scrooge reacts to visits from ghosts in radically different ways – terrified in one version and combative and angry in another.

That’s why I prefer to watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” It’s the best Christmas movie ever made, anyway.

Getting back to “A Christmas Carol,” though, there is one part of the tale I’ve wondered about for decades. At the end of the story, Scrooge sticks his head out of an upstairs window on Christmas morning and tells a passing kid to run to the market and get the big goose hanging in the window, and he promises him a fat tip if he’s fast.

So, was the market open on Christmas Day? Is that the way it was back in 1843, when Charles Dickens wrote the story? Was Christmas just another day? Did everybody get up and go to work as usual?

I don’t know, but what research I’ve done suggests that Christmas was once a whole lot less special.

In parts of Europe and America, it was actually viewed as sinful to celebrate Christmas at one point.

The way the day is celebrated gradually changed, and it appears to have been shaped in large part by what you could call the media. People wrote Christmas stories and Christmas poems and people drew fanciful pictures of Santa Claus, and it all helped reshape the holiday.

It was actually well into the 1800s, though, before Christmas trees became commonplace. It was 1870 before the day was declared a federal holiday, and it was 1888 before the White House bothered to put up a Christmas tree.

So maybe the market was open on Christmas Day in Dickens’ old England.

I also wonder whether people have always looked forward to having a white Christmas. People have been singing “White Christmas” for as long as I can remember, but did they hope for snow before Irving Berlin wrote that song in 1940?

I never did. It didn’t snow where I grew up, so you didn’t even think about having a white Christmas. You could buy little bags of fake snow to put on your windowsills as part of your decorating. It was very messy. My sister poured some in my fish bowl once so my fish could have a white Christmas. It ate some and died.

That was about the time someone came out with a song called “Green Christmas,” all about how the holiday meant money for business. I don’t think the song helped shape the way we celebrate Christmas, but it did describe it very well.

Christmas is still evolving. It went from a little marked holiday to one where every business closed down for the day. Now stores are starting to open on Christmas again, supposedly so you can buy a big goose if you’d forgotten to buy it early.

So when I get up on Christmas morning, I’ll be able to look out the window and realize that it’s exactly like the holiday was when Dickens wrote his story 170 years ago.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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